Comments & Post Length

Personal blogs are abandoned at a rate of about 60-80% within one month of creation and the vast majority of the longer survivors don’t last much more than two years (source). I have beat the average–blogging for more than three year now.  I am motivated to continue in several ways:

  • the joy of writing
  • personal projects
  • learning and challenges
  • community
It is comments on my blog that supply the later two: community, learning and challenges. I love comments. When I view blogs that have no comments, I wonder to myself “How do they keep going?”. But bloggers vary in how much they value comments (see the poll to the right).  I think famous bloggers are not motivated by the number of comments but by the number of views or by revenue generated by visitor ad clicks.  But for us mere mortals, I think comments and views are the major ways we evaluate our blogs’ outreach value.  Of course the joy of creating is a large motivation for some even without significant comments or views.  But comments also matter to me.  So I took some time and looked at comment issues.

I compiled n spread sheet to evaluate my comment frequency. I found that  the average number of comments on my posts has been about 12, and with a mean around 10.  The most useful information would be “unique commentors” per each thread so as to eliminate a long thread of just two people arguing, or a thread crowded with my comments.  Also, not all comments are equal — we all value some commentors input more than others.  Given those caveats, here is a summary of my comment stats:

  • ZERO comments:  9%
  • 1-4 comments: 15%
  • >10 comments: 49%
  • >20 comments:  16%
  • >30 comments: 7%

I am extremely grateful to my commentors. I hope to keep nurturing them. I think length of posts will scare away many readers and commentors — especially without images, diagrams or charts.  Unless someone is an amazing writer or revealing excellent new ideas or information, I am not motivated to read a long personal blog.

I decided to get the stats for my top 10 commented blogs (see below) and see how many views they had and how long each post was.  I found none of those posts went over 700 words.  To obtain a word count, I cut and past my post here.  For example: this post is about 415 words long.

Question to readers:

  • How have you thought about increasing your posts’ comments?
  • Do you try to limit the length of your posts?

My top 10 commented posts:

Post Title Comments Views Length
 Why Yahweh Kills Innocents 110 529 564
 Redefining Atheism  84 189 225
 Credal Belonging 71 332 639
 Religion and Drugs 70 990 415
 Your Violence Policy 70 1232 168
 Who is a Christian 70 291 297
 Metaphorical vs. Literal Truth 64 218 562
 Foreskin Decisions 57 605 660
 Astral Projection 56 257 578
 Atheists who prefer Hell  52 556 509


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

35 responses to “Comments & Post Length

  1. I used to think about ways to increase comments, but I think I finally realized that I had very little control over this. Some posts are going to generate a lot of comments, and I’m not very good at predicting which will.

    I do try to limit the length of posts, as I have found that few people seem to have the patience to read longer posts.

  2. @ vjack,
    We all value complimentary comments — they can fire up our motivation to post. But I really like civil challenges & suggestions. Commentors who read carefully, think and contribute are a blessing. It is harder to count those comments.

    I agree: From what I have read, keeping posts short by editing out verbosity and tangents is drastically important from many angles — not just in getting comments.

    Thanx for stopping in VJack

  3. TWF

    OK. I’m jealous. 😉

    Short is critical. Kicking the right hornet’s nest, the right way, is also important. I think you do a pretty good job of that.

  4. You know I’m a windbag, but I’m trying to reform myself. Truth is, I had some encounters early on where the only comments I was getting were quibbles that I hadn’t said this, or clarified that, with the implication that what I said was worthless as a result. So I ended up trying to be comprehensive, rather than pithy.

    It’s interesting to see those stats – I wonder how many of those comments were addressing or complaining about something you didn’t mention.

  5. @TWF:
    I would NEVER kick a hornet’s nest — you have more guts than me! ;->

    @ Recovering Agnostic:
    (1) Do you use a Mac? I use outlining software sometimes to help me stay concise.

    (2) Yes, I am sure comments are made because I did not address something — but I welcome those. However, there is a very good way to cut those down: Don’t write broad, generalizing, grandiose posts — don’t summarize some world issue or some philosophical dilemma in one post. Instead, make each post address a specific point. Add pics or diagrams — show the reader that it is more than just free-form thinking. Show them that you took your time to edit, organize, condense and beautify your thoughts for them — it is a way of showing respect, in my book.

    (3) There are many causes of verbosity:
    (a) a complicated subject that needs lots of writing: so break it up into smaller posts. See #2
    (b) Bad sentences
    (c) Unrelated material, distractions, other issues, side comments
    (d) Bad organization
    (e) Repetition
    (f) Not rechecking, re-reading, cutting down etc.

    I am guilty of all the above — of course.

  6. Sabio, what outlining software do you use? I’ve been planning to evaluate Scrivener (based on Will Buckingham’s recommendation), but would be interested in alternatives.

    I try to keep posts under 1000 words, and often fail. Mostly I write things that seem inherently complicated. I could break them up into shorter pieces (your 3a), but then the structure of the argument would get lost. Blogs are really badly suited for this. The hierarchical structure I’ve adopted on some of my non-blog web sites is better, but it’s unfamiliar with readers, so it’s still far from ideal.

  7. I have been blogging since September of of 2010. I began the endeavor as an outlet to discuss topics I enjoyed, religion and politics. When I first began the posts were on the long side, 800-1300 words. I got few comments for at least two reasons. Putting aside that I might not be good at this, my posts were tiringly long, and covered too much of the subject.

    I have since shortened my posts to between 400-600 words and am not so exhaustive in my coverage on the topic. I intentionally leave some angles and points out, and it creates discussion.

    I noticed that I would start to read someone’s post, and at paragraph 3, if there was more than 2 more, I’d just stop reading regardless of the topic. This is how I realized my posts were too long.

    My biggest challenge now is how to get the people who “like” my posts to comment. As one of my regular critics noted, there are many people who “like” my posts, but never have anything to say. I suppose I could ask more questions (your suggestion), that has worked in the past. I just keep forgetting!

  8. @ David Chapman
    I use OmniOutliner. Your blogs posts have tons of comments and your writing style is succinct and captivating. I don’t think you have to worry about verbiage. But you may enjoy the software.
    But I had never heard of Scrivener and it looks fantastic for big projects — which I may be up for in the next year or so. So thank you kindly.

  9. @ John Barron,
    Excellent points ! We all learn as we blog — maybe sometimes what we learn about blogging is more important for our lives than the material upon which we pontificate! 😉

    I have read a few of your posts and they usually seem to be posts which criticize the world and the bad people or the bad thinking in it. I don’t ever remember reading inspiring, touching, warm or fun posts. So maybe the choice of your topics draws a certain audience. And so maybe some people are just afraid to jump into the den of wolves that like that menu. If the comment management is harsh and dry, it may scare folks away too.

    Have you considered warmer, inspirational posts?
    How do you measure your blog’s impact: views, comments, gratitude e-mails from readers …?

  10. I think you’re right about the atmosphere on my blog. it may be prohibitive. And I think you’re right that the topics I choose and the manner with which I write them foster the kinds of comments I get.

    However, the style of my writing and my own comments I think accurately reflect my personality in person. And honestly, the topics I pick are in my personality to focus on. You have seen some of my posts which show the “lighter side” of me. One that you suggested, my “bio” so to speak which I enjoyed writing.

    But I think to write softer, inspiring, fun and winsome posts is so foreign to me that I wouldn’t even know where to start. I also think it wouldn’t seem genuine, and out of place.

    I’m not opposed to it, but like I said, it’s a bit foreign to me.

  11. @ John Barron,
    Wow, very honest — thank you. But I remain skeptical that there aren’t things in life that delight you and fill you with joy or laughter or awe besides chastising the world. All you need to do is find a way to write about them that others would enjoy. Shock your readers!!
    Kids, for example, can bring that out, or music or sports. No?
    Thanks again for the comment.

  12. zqtx

    I just wanted to add to the number of comments on this thread.

    OK – in all seriousness, I enjoy your posts, Sabio. I like the thoughtfulness of the topics and the diversity of the audience who responds.

    I would think it’s relatively easy to provoke the usual ‘us versus them’ type of posts that spiral into a pointless yelling match, but your posts seem to offer more than that.

    It’s nice to read an endearing story every now and then, even when you know the writer not really looking for replies – they just wanted to share the story.

  13. Sabio – through long time blogging (I’ve had my blog since 2007), I would have thought that reciprocating comments was important. While that’s somewhat true, the single most important thing I find is replying to each comment. Bloggers who do this seem to have the most traffic.

    That and writing interesting posts, of course. If a blogger is a blowhard, a bad writer, simply pilfers posts from news articles or blatantly self-promotes, they might get readers, but not the kind I’d want.

    I have a very specific audience, so I don’t know why it matters to have more views unless you’re selling something. Sometimes if I get especially vacuous comments, I’ll intentionally write a long, scientific post to weed out the airheads.

    (For example taking an hour to write a post only to have some readers comment Ooh what a pretty picture!)

    I’m surprised there’s no reply button here, actually.

  14. @John Barrow: that’s easy enough, just turn off the Like button.

  15. Do you think that would compel otherwise silent complimenters to become vocal contributors?

  16. I think that depends; how close are these people? Are they in your social circle? Personally I wouldn’t want a reader who’s so lazy they can’t bother to leave comments. Often those folks are just gunning for site hits.

  17. John – visiting your site, I see that you have mostly political posts! I’d say that’s fine, but the layout is mind-boggling. It’s like a tabloid newspaper. Can you simplify the layout? My eyes hurt reading it and I feel overwhelmed. Maybe a post by post design and less generic graphics?

  18. @ Amelie :
    I strongly agree that comment which have substance are really fun. But even a compliment, without substance is nice too.

    Few questions:
    (1) You said, “the single most important thing I find is replying to each comment” — do you mean reply to each comment individually unlike my grouped reples as in this group reply?

    (2) You said, “I’m surprised there’s no reply button here, actually.”
    — I am not sure what you mean. Please explain. Is my blog missing something that I am unaware of? Thanx.

    (3) See my comment about “Likes” below to John. I see you have them on your blog. Why do you have them? Have they helped?

    @ John Barron :
    Actually, I turned on “like” buttons for a while, but turned them off. I suspected some of the “Likes” were simple ways for people to self-advertise. And since “like” is vacuous, I decided to turn it off. Maybe it encourages folks to make a comment and not just say, “Like!” while the spammers do nothing — win, win.

    The WordPress “Like”, from what I understand, is only in-house. It doesn’t publish on Facebook or make a note of your blog post elsewhere — in which case, I could see a value of “Like”.

    Is that your experience?

    PS, I agree with amelie about the layout. But that is an aesthetic personal subjective judgement, not a deep universal truth about the universe. 🙂

  19. I use the layout I do because I didnt want older posts to go to the graveyard. It has an option to show older random posts. I suppose I could unclutter it a bit, but for some reason I find it attractive, and that is an objective truth by the way. I might turn off the like option and see what happens. Checking my stats, it is very rare that anyone clicks on a “liker”. But who knows maybe it will prompt some commentary.

  20. Sabio – yeah you see on my blog, the “Reply” button? You don’t have that. I actually don’t know what the effect is of group replies versus individual replies, this is the only place I’ve seen replies done that way.

    I think the Reply button is the best way to communicate with someone, because it’s clear and also people get a notification on WordPress (I disabled the email notifications but we still get an orange “thought bubble” on the screen) for individual replies.

    I do have the Like button just because I never bothered turning it off; I considered it but have too much on my plate to ponder it right now, LOL 😉

    I agree that compliments are nice, however most of the annoying ones I get have nothing to do with my writings, they’re of Creative Commons photos, which quite frankly are secondary to the post and there so the reader will, as you pointed out, have an easier time taking in the information.

    I don’t mind occasional short comments at all; but a few commenters leave nothing but an airheaded comment on the photo at the bottom of the post. I can do without that goofieness.

  21. @John, I’m exactly the same way; I hate to see my favorite posts get buried. I have that short list at the right (archived posts) which is new and I seem to get more hits on them since I put it up; the trick is to have provocative and short, original titles. As opposed to stock ones.

  22. @ Amelie :
    Ah, I see what you mean by “reply”. Yes, I actually strongly dislike reply buttons and actually don’t like them on your blog.
    Reply buttons result in “Comment Hierarchy” which I have critisized here. Take a look and see if you understand my choice — whether you agree or not. 🙂

    @ John & Amelie :
    To stop posts from disappearing — and I find it works very well (judging from clicks), Is I built a Table of Contents (see my post here). I haven’t updated the table in > 6 months and am in the process of doing that. Such organization has many benefits, but is a lot of work. Check out the post if you are interested.

  23. Sabio –

    Oh yeah, my Categories are constantly being revised. Although I also believe in a certain dynamic “flow” so even when Vox went down I didn’t mind that all my posts were erased. Good to let go once in a while. They’re just posts. Most people have complimented my “clean” and minimal layout so I assume it’s not cluttered.

    The comment heirarchy – I know what you mean about the thin comment boxes. That drives me nuts. But I rarely get that many comments and if i do we just start at the bottom of the page. I’m quite confused what you meant about not knowing what order (chronology) comments were in…….? The newer comments are below the older ones; right? Unless you meant something else.

    I de-subscribed to comments and all emails, always have. We’re lucky to have the notification system on WP. I don’t know what kind of work schedule people have that they can sift through a dozen notification emails every day, but I don’t have that luxury.

  24. BTW if you want to give an example and use my blog, that’s totally fine. I know which posts got the most comments but I don’t have a way of figuring out which have the most replies to other comments.

  25. Congrats on having a surviving blog! I occasionally look around for blogs, especially on Chinese Medicine, science, and skepticism. It’s amazing how many stagnant or dead blogs there are. Mine is going strong after a few years, though comments are still rare. The high point of my blogging life was yesterday when James Randi left a comment!

  26. @ amelie :
    Ah yes, revising categories is one method, but then you don’t get them organized the way you like and you miss the annotation method of the Index.
    I agree, your design is not cluttery, but I don’t find anything in it to make me want to explore past posts — that is the advantage of a TOC.

    Concerning chronology: sure, chronology is preserved in a “Reply” hierarchy but not in the whole thread hierarchy.

    I will have to look at WP notification system — perhaps I don’t understand it yet.

    And sorry, I don’t follow your 4:16 comment of 7/30.

    @ ancientwaykevin :
    I LOVED your reply to Randi. Hopefully he replies (if he actually wrote it.)
    Your blog is technical and probably get readers who approach your blend of skepticism and practice. I’d be curious to see you post something called: “Ways I’ve been Wrong”. I do the same here — we have lots in common.

  27. @ zqtx,
    Thanks, mate.

  28. @Sabio oh, now I think I understand. You mean if there’s a comment thread, subsequent comments will appear newer than the new replies. Got it. What I meant by my comment was a response to when you said you didn’t like reply hierarchies on my blog. I thought you could give an example from one of my posts on why they cause a problem. But now I get what you mean, so no need. 😉

    Worth noting that on WordPress, when I hit the “Comments I’ve Made” button, I see new replies as the newest comment (as opposed to mingled in with other comments on the post page itself). So that works.

    If you look in the top right hand corner of your screen, you’ll see a square that looks like the “dialogue balloon” that cartoon characters have when they speak to each other (where the words appear in comic strips – above their head). That shape in the upper right hand screen turns orange when you have new comments (or at least it should) and when someone replies to you. (You may have known already but just thought I’d mention it).

    By the way – I didn’t quite get what you meant by the Index system. (I’m going to win on number of times we get confused about blog functions, LOL)!

  29. I value commentary a lot, but do get tired of challenging commentary that just wants to argue from the hostile few; nevertheless, people read drama, so whatever gets people reading, I defer to. 😉

  30. @ the warrioress:
    Well, I love challenges of people who disagree. “Disagreement” does not mean “hostile” to me. “Hostile” is an attitude of the person posting — it is their rhetoric, not the challenge. Don’t you agree?

    Your recent post said,

    So the atheist is either lying or he is a fool or both.
    -the warriores

    Why would you be surprised at challenges to that? Maybe you should close your blog to “Members Only” to avoid challenges. Calling people “hostile few” who challenge statements like your above statement seems a bit odd. Is that what you meant? I am not sure I understood the wink.

  31. @Sabio–Thanks! I e-mailed the provided address and The Amazing Randi and I had a friendly e-mail conversation over the weekend. I’m still somewhat giddy, LOL. There is so much I want to write about, but it’s tricky as you know. Well, you have a pseudonym and you’re not practicing acupuncture anymore (if I am correct about your situation).

    A WordPress tip–I learned to use the ‘Insert More Tag’ post break feature, which has two benefits–on the main page, it only shows your selected beginning excerpt of the post, so readers click ‘continue’ to see the whole post, and in the e-mail version for subscribers, it also just shows the excerpt so people click ‘read more’ and come to the site to read the post. Since I sometimes post very long, image-rich posts, it was overwhelming my main page and e-mail subscribers before I started doing this.

  32. @ AncientWayKevin:
    Yep, you are right, I use a pseudonym for very good reasons and I don’t practice Acupuncture anymore. I do use acupressure and I do demonstrate acupuncture for kicks to folks as a party trick.

    As you know, I have come to see acupuncture as largely not effective for very much at all — except at a placebo level in which case, in skilled personalities, it can be highly effective for many reasons. You blog a bit about that. Your posts are a bit long for me and I am not following the debates too much any more, so unfortunately I don’t read much. I do follow you on my RSS though.

    I guess that since you do use your real name and use your site as a store, it would be tough to explore and write honestly. It is your livelyhood after all — much like may pastors no longer believe but they could never find a better paying, secure job after they had done it for 20 years.

    But maybe you could tell us here, in simple, short words what you feel acupuncture can actually treat successfully (minus the placebo effect). Herbs are another story.

    Wait, maybe I will post something on Acupuncture soon. Maybe you could comment there. Anyway, nice chatting.

  33. My plan is to continue blogging honestly, sharing my journey to understanding research science, history of medicine, etc. Thanks for the indirect tip on post length.

    Acupuncture, as I practice it, seems to have a benefit for many cases of pain and mild neuropathy. Muscle spasm, nerve inflammation, bulging discs… This effect often seems to be more than placebo and appears to have lasting benefits in some cases that don’t appear to have been on the path to self-resolution or regression to the mean. But only really good research can identify that pattern, I now realize.

    I often combine lifestyle advice and good listening skills in my therapeutic relationships. I teach some simple exercises, tips on body posture and movement dynamics, healthy recipes, etc.

    In my private practice I’m fairly conservative about prescribing herbs–if there are dietary changes, exercises, etc. that could fix the problem, I emphasize those first. On my site, I offer a wide variety of Chinese herbs to “responsible adults” who know what they’re looking for. My views on this are evolving to be more concerned about the info that people have used to determine what they’re looking for. I would say I’m moving from philosophical libertarianism to scientific skepticism. Hopefully I will strike a good balance.

  34. @ ancientwaykevin:
    Thanks for the reply.
    I have mentioned the length issue to several bloggers — pissing off a few. I had a friend mention it to me and tried to take it to heart. So, it was not directed to anyone in particular.

    We should probably talk about Acupuncture on another post — I will do one soon about “Back Pain”. Please do participate there. Simple point: You mentioned “bulging discs”.

    Bulging discs usually repair themselves given time — about 90% in 4 weeks, if I remember correctly — and I am not talking about herniated propulsus. If you are doing acupuncture during that time, it could appear that the acupuncture is curing, whereas TIME is curing (read: natural processes).

    Not to say that treatment is not comforting, offer hope and such during the healing process.

    Either way — I love your attitude. More later. I hope you continue to follow.

  35. Hi amelie (if you are still following),
    I forgot to get back to you about “Index” posts. Here is my post on what that means.

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